Udall, Chapter 3: “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman”

by chunte4

I really enjoyed Udall’s exploration of the myth making instinct in all three artists and the experiences they each based their invented personas on. Udall notes that “each [artist] was sufficiently well off to ensure certain comforts and the leisure to pursue some degree of cultural attainment” (pg. 201) yet I found it interesting that despite these luxuries their fantasy personas did not solely embrace the privileged, comforting aspects of the their lives. In fact pain and lack of spiritual or emotional fulfillment played a large role in each of their constructed mythologies. Both Carr and O’Keef for example experienced a great deal of loneliness and isolation in their lives due to their eccentric personalities and decision to live as artists in a world that was far from ready to accomodate women that had ambitious carrer aspirations of any kind. Interestingly Carr’s feelings of isolation began long before she became an artist due to the high energy, “boyish” way she expressed herself as a child, which isolated her from her family. The persona she named “Small” and used in her writing pieces exaggerated the spontaneous, quick tempered, adventurous nature that she was admonished for when she was young. Her poems and other written pieces, therefore seem to act a means for her to express her childlike instincts without shame or fear of embarrassent in front of others.

O’Keef’s isolation stemmed mostly from her determination to prevent anything that might disrupt her career as an artist from playing a large role in her life. As a result she rarely allowed anyone into her inner circle, but instead “played the part of an artistic rebel who struggled alone to realize her vision.” (pg. 207) She embraced the idea of a “brooding artist,” going to far as to express surprise and disdain towards the idea of earning money from her paintings and becoming successful in the mainstream art world. Her performance required, to some extent, that she put up a barrier between herself and others, yet Udall implies that she used it to cope with the difficulties, romantic, professional or otherwise, inherent in the life of a woman artist during that time.

Udall mentions that while Carr and O’Keef’s emotional baggage stemmed partly from their own choices, Khalo could not choose to abstain from becoming a mother. Though she wanted to become a mother, her many miscarriages, likely a result from injuries sustained as a teenager, prevented her from fulfilling her wish. Khalo therefore chose to explore motherhood in her paintings: not just the mothering of children, but motherhood in a cosmic, spiritual sense.  Through painting, Khalo could explore her own maternal instincts, and reach out to those that mothered her, such as the Mexican nannies whose faces she could never remember, but who she sees as essential maternal figures in her life. The mythology she built around herself allowed her to experience the spiritual experience of motherhood without the physical act of giving birth. Though all three women at times felt isolated or unfulfilled, they used their creative energies to feed those needs in ways that allowed them to pursue their artistic ambitions as well.